Thinking About Rad Ref

I'm going to be a "topic facilitator" at this conference in Salt Lake City later this month.

As I understand it, I'll be talking briefly about Radical Reference and then leading a discussion about democracy in libraries following a talk by Leslie Burger on that topic.

Since Radical Reference is a collective project (I'm going to the conference because, as I'm in Wyoming, I'm "local" to SLC), I'd like to get a little group input into what I say and what I encourage others to think about. Below is a rough outline of the kinds of things I'm hoping to talk about. Please embellish, amend, add to, and otherwise alter.


A Brief Introduction to Radical Reference

* started in response to RNC in NYC in 2004
* provided street reference with on-the-street volunteers + backup on the internet
* continued as a web-based reference service for activists & independent journalists
* local collectives work on projects specific to their communities [any particular examples I should cite?]
* members also do education and outreach [presentations at activist conferences, Books Through Bars, etc.]

Radical Reference & Democracy in Libraries

* democracy is in part about protecting the rights of the minority--RR exists in order to serve groups that aren't catered to in traditional library service
* democracy in libraries should involve diversity not only in terms of who is served but also in terms of what is provided--RR works to promote alternative media
* [surely I had some other brilliant idea of what to put here]

Have at it, folks!


Hey Laura, What a great

Hey Laura,

What a great idea to develop your session this way!

One thing I'd add is our commitment to using open source software and how open source is a democratizer and in line with the core values of librarianship.

I'd also frame the conference talks as instruction and education in critical thinking/info lit and how our presence at activist community events places us within them, and makes librarians and libraries more visible as resources.

A facet of Rad Ref that I don't know if any of foresaw was how important it would become to us socially, as well as politically. I consider fellow RR volunteers, especially the NYC collective to be my affinity group and some of my strongest allies and favorite friends.

Yes, this sounds great, and

Yes, this sounds great, and I agree with Jenna's points, too!

For examples, you could look at the NYC collective page for some of the venues we've done workshops at.

Another thing is that next month I and probably another librarian in NYC will start doing some free computer/Internet workshops at the NYC AIDS Housing Network in Brooklyn for their members. This is something that wouldn't have occurred to me to offer without the inspiration of Radical Reference and my friends and colleagues there.

Good luck, and have fun! Post a report-back when it's done!

Thanks for the suggestions!

Thanks for the suggestions! Yay collective brain!

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Spirit of RR

Hi Laura,

What a great question to start out a Friday morning! Being another rad dot in a red state (inspired with phrasing today I am!), RR has been a great group for me to work with. Starting with the first street ref project at RNC, when I did home support (sometimes from my office), I recall the excitement of fielding questions that were more in-the-moment than the typical ref desk questions. I'm sure my cubefarm-mates were wondering why I was speaking loudly to someone named Jenna about when & where Laura Bush would be speaking. :)

And I have always seen this sort of home support & question answering on the site as a natural extension of what I'm paid to do. As an academic librarian, I serve the public as well as the campus community. If the public comes from remote Canada, etc., as they sometimes do via our library's e-mail form, that's fine & dandy. Same with RR. Same with my folks in Alabama when they ask me to find information for them because I'm a librarian, e.g., "When & how did the idea that suicide is an unforgivable sin get started?"

Being a part of the RR community has helped me in organizing conference presentations & such too. I led a program at the Alabama Library Association's annual convention about alternative lit & media in libraries, with a panel of rad librarians and alt publishers (with some overlap). This was a feat not easily accomplished in Alabama, but through the network, I crept through the series of tubes we call the Internets and got it done. And we had a huge attendance & great response to that Collection Development Round Table program.

I'm making fewer ALA trips in my new job, but for the past several years I've gone to Annual & MW when I can. RR meetings are by far the highlight of every one. The spirit of openness, excitement, instant friendships, and new ideas makes these gatherings unique, and I already miss them lots. At places like the New Orleans infoshop where they not only hosted us but joined our meeting, I have great memories of the people, the conversations, the work of RR. As I recruit people to our profession, I also keep an eye out for whom I can recruit to RR. When we had a string of medical questions appearing a few years back, I e-mailed a (rad) medical librarian friend & invited her to join. Although she doesn't attend ALA, she's had a great time being involved on the site.

RR rocks.

There are two things about

There are two things about Radical Reference that I personally find very important and would address if asked about the group. The first issue being that we do not see our users as passive consumers of information. We see our users as active subjects engaged in a process of making sense of the world. I doubt that every RadRefer would care to mobilize a discourse of citizenship when describing the services that we provide. However, I think the conflict between information “consumers” and “citizens” is instructive (i.e. issues over the commodification of information that should be familiar to library lefties). Secondly, I would stress the nonhierarchical nature of how the group is organized. RadRef does not have a centralized decision making body and conducts its activities in a way that is very participatory and open to variety of viewpoints and ideologies that fit within Radical Reference’s stated goals. It is an organizational structure that I see as a product of the newer social movements of recent years (e.g. global justice). I hope this helps. Enjoy the presentation!


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